Lent: A Simple Primer

We are approaching a special time of year in the Christian calendar- the season of Lent. If you don’t happen to have a church background and have no idea what Lent is about, or if your tribe of Christianity does not observe Lent, then let’s take a few minutes to learn what Lent is all about.

Lent is the 40-day period of time prior to Easter when Christians spiritually prepare themselves to celebrate Easter Sunday. The main focus of Lent is penitence- becoming aware of our spiritual shortcomings, mourning our sinfulness, and coming to a place of repentance. The goal is to celebrate Easter spiritually clean, refreshed, and revived.

Christians have observed Lent for centuries. It actually began as a time of preparation for candidates for baptism, and also a time for people who were excluded from Communion to be restored.

Although many of the early methods of observing Lent have passed away, there are three main ways modern Christians observe Lent: fasting, abstaining from something of value, and giving themselves in service. Many Christians fast during this time to simulate Christ’s 40 day fast in the wilderness prior to his temptation (Matt. 4:1-2), either a meal a day or eating only in the evening. Other Christians observe Lent by giving up something meaningful or valuable in their lives- watching TV, favorite foods, or other things as a symbol of repentance. Also, many Christians look for ways to serve others, or look for opportunities to give money to the poor or underprivileged.

Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, and many churches offer a special Ash Wednesday service. At the conclusion of the service, the pastor or priest applies a smudge of ashes onto the forehead of believers, signifying an attitude of penitence (in the Old Testament, people who were mourning wore sack cloths and ashes to signify their sadness).

I encourage you to consider observing Lent for yourself this year. As you take time to focus on your spiritual life, and as you choose something of value to give up or forego, I think you’ll discover a sacred and deeply spiritual experience. We travel through life at breakneck speed, devoting far too much time to inconsequential things, while neglecting those that are important. Lent helps us slow down, see ourselves as we really are, and do the things that help us become who God wants us to be.

The Love Chapter In Today’s Language

I don’t know about you, but I’m afraid of what’s happening in our country these days.  Let me set your mind at ease right from the start: I’m not beginning a political discussion.  Lord knows we have too many of them already.

I’m afraid that if we aren’t careful, we will open up wounds on our country and each other that cannot heal, no matter who is President or which political party is in control.  As I watch and listen to the discussions and name calling that happens on social media and elsewhere, it occurs to me that Americans have so defined what separates us that we’re forgetting the things that unite us.  And according to Abraham Lincoln, that is the beginning of the end.  He said, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.”

I am not blind to the problems that exist in our country today.  They are big, they are complex, and they are real.  But have you noticed that our country’s problems seem not to be our enemy anymore?  Our enemy has become each other.  Instead of attacking problems, we seem bent on attacking one other.  Granted, we are a people of differences, and we have our own viewpoints and opinions of how to solve the problems we face.  That has always characterized Americans.  But at no time in the past do I remember such a climate of personal attacks or venomous animosity toward people whose transgression is having a different point of view.

Call me cynical, but I don’t see our political system or its members as being part of the answer.  From where I sit, their priorities seem centered more on establishing legacies and winning reelection than on healing our wounds.  Media is also part of the problem.  Instead of informing us, their goal is now to persuade us.  Remember, the greater our outrage and anger, the more viewers they have, which translates into money for them.

So what’s the answer?  Our wounds and far too complex to have a single simple answer, but I would like to suggest a starting place.  The starting place is within us- you and I.  The way we relate to each other is the single greatest factor in whether or not our country can heal.  And I think I know of a guide we can use to make our relationships better.

The guide is one of the most familiar and loved chapters in the Bible.  I Corinthians 13 is often called the “love chapter,” because it describes what genuine, authentic love looks like when it’s done right.  If you’ll allow me, I’d like to adapt this chapter into today’s language with the purpose of applying its principles to our present circumstances.  In case you aren’t familiar with I Corinthians 13, you can read it in its Biblical form here.

OK, here goes.

If I debate, argue, and dialogue better than anyone, putting those who see things differently in their place, but I didn’t speak in love, I would be no more useful than a noisy piece of metal.  If I perfectly understood all the ins and outs of every issue, and I was right about everything all the time, and if I had all the answers to all the questions, but didn’t love and respect those I debate with, I would be nothing.  If I volunteered at every shelter, marched at every rally, demonstrated at every opportunity against the powers that be, I could brag that I’m an activist or a moralist.  But if I didn’t have love, I’ve had no effect.

Real love gives other people a break.  It means we don’t attack their personhood when we speak to them.  It restrains us from saying things that are rude, hurtful, or cutting.  Love keeps us from always having to be right.  Love doesn’t keep bringing up what people said or did in the past as ammunition for today’s arguments or issues.  Love doesn’t celebrate when someone falls, but rejoices when someone does well or something good happens to them.  Love doesn’t give up when two people don’t see eye to eye, it never thinks that because there is are different viewpoints the other person is evil or immoral, and love keeps on loving until a solution is reached.

I don’t know how you feel about all this, but from my perspective, something has to change, and these principles seem to hit at the real problem- the lack of respect and unity that we have toward each other.

Americans are different, and we’ve always been different.  But we’ve never before defined ourselves by our differences.  We’ve always been united by a bond that until now has included a respect for one another.  Nothing else seems to be working.  Maybe loving each other a little better will.

As always, thanks for reading.  Feel free to share to your social media page if you like what you’re reading, and I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Dying With No Regrets

The entire wing of the Hospice unit was quiet.  It was evening and friends had gone, leaving only a few family members to stay with their loved ones.  I was there to see my friend Ron, whose life was quickly ebbing away.  He was still lucid, but the cancer that ravaged his body was quickly tightening its grip.

We both knew what was happening, so I invited him to talk about his life and his death.  I asked him if he understood that the end of his life was near, and he said yes.  Then I asked him this question: as you look back over your life, what do you remember most?  What stands out to you now? I’ll never forget his answer.

I can’t tell you the exact words he used, but his thoughts are still clearly etched in my mind.  As his eyes misted over, he began to talk about what he believed was wasted time, missed opportunities, and mixed up priorities.  As we sat there alone in his room, he quietly talked about regrets.

His first regret was what he described as a lack of humility toward other people.  Ron was educated, well read, and consistently managed many people over his career.  But his education and position became a liability in his relationships because he lacked the sensitivity and awareness to understand how he came across to others.   Only later in life, as his cancer progressed, did Ron make time for truthful introspection, and by then it was too late to salvage many relationships that were meaningful to him.  Ron said it like this: “I realized too late that it wasn’t my opinions or my education that people cared about.  People embrace genuine, authentic people who are strong enough to be weak and brave enough to be humble.”  Strong words from such a weak man.

Second, Ron regretted not living more in the day to day, moment by moment rhythm of life.  Because he was so driven, he marked life by living project to project, event to event, and his life became more about planning for what’s happening next instead of reflecting on and celebrating what’s happening now.  He sadly recalled making a business deal over the phone while his grandson’s birthday party was going on, and of coming home late night after night to his wife who waited patiently for him.  Simple, basic, nondescript, precious moments that a dying man would give anything to have back.

And third, Ron regretted the broken relationships and unrepaired areas of his past that he failed to address.  Ron had been in Hospice for several days, and his middle son had yet to come or call.  A poorly resolved dispute years earlier had left his son feeling alienated, and although Ron meant to reach out one day, that day never came.  And now it was too late.

That night was my last conversation with Ron.  He died a couple of days later.  He was a good man with many friends.  He had a successful career and was respected in his community.  But Ron died with regrets.

As I reflect on that night with Ron, I realize that today, right now, I’m at the place in my life that Ron wished he could be.  I’m healthy, I’m surrounded by family and friends, and I have a chance to make the needed changes to ensure that I die with no regrets.  As I think about it, that would be a great way to honor Ron’s memory.

Thanks for reading, and if you think these thoughts will help someone else, feel free to share them on your social media page.  And as always, I would love to hear your experiences.

My Sunday As A Regular Person

There are many rich rewards to being a pastor, but there are also some dangerous pitfalls.  One is rarely having the opportunity to be on the receiving end of ministry.  In order to offset that danger, I ask our staff pastors to take a Sunday during the summer and attend another church with their families so they could be ministered to.  Sunday was my day to be away.

If you aren’t a pastor, then some of what I’ll say won’t make much sense.  Although pastors are regular people, ministry does some weird things to our self-image and our sense of responsibility.  Being in charge of worship services and the spiritual care of others tempts us to be too concerned with things that aren’t ultimately that important- things like worrying about what people will say when we’re not at church, or worrying about whether or not things will go OK in our absence.  Stupid stuff like that.

The day began like every other Sunday.  I got up at my regular time and got my wife out the door (her presence at our church was required today).  I decided to attend a large church in the next town, about 30 minutes away.

On my way to church, it occurred to me that I am completely unused to driving anywhere on a Sunday morning, because I normally get to church early.   I was eager to see what the rest of the world does.  Two miles from my house, a black Dodge Charger blew by me and passed me over double yellow lines.  I guess the hot rods wake up early on Sundays.  My route took me past my friend’s church (he’s the pastor), and I said a prayer for him as I went by.  I couldn’t help but notice that the parking lots of the diners were full.  I drove by the Country Club and was surprised to see a foursome putting on the 10th green, because it wasn’t even 9AM.  I guess they get an early start on Sundays, too.

All the way to church, my stomach was churning.  My mind was telling me this was a bad idea.  I should be at my own church and ministering to my people.  Then I received a text, which is unusual for me on Sunday mornings.  It was my friend who doesn’t usually attend church.  He sent me a picture of the inside of my church’s worship center, with the caption “Are we going to miss you today?”  He came to church!  I was sick, and it was all I could do to keep from turning around and going back.

Finally, I arrived.  I was nervous walking up to the front door, because I didn’t know anyone. This must be what it feels like to be a guest at my church.  I made a mental note to speak to everyone I see next Sunday.  Here was the view from my seat:


You need to know this about pastors who visit another church: it’s very difficult for us to stay out of “comparison and evaluation mode.”  Our instincts are to analyze instead of relaxing and worshiping, and I struggled at first.  Then, somewhere during the second song, it happened.  Like a Ninja, Jesus slipped in and stood beside me.  The words and the music took me in, and everything else seemed to slip away.  He gently reminded me that the success of my church doesn’t depend on me.  He’s the one in control.  It was liberating!

Then the pastor spoke, and his sermon was both relevant and engaging.  The topic was prayer, and he taught that my prayers are a reflection of my perception of who God is.  If I perceive God to be weak, disengaged, and uncaring, then I’ll pray that way.  I was convicted.

Before I left for church, I wasn’t sure what today’s experience would yield.  But God had it all planned.  He created an atmosphere for me where I didn’t have to concentrate on anything except what He was saying, and it was so rich.  I heard Him, I felt Him, and I was renewed. It was a gift from heaven, one which I rarely get to experience.  Next week, when I stand before my own church, I’ll be better because of today.

Jesus Knows What It’s Like To Be You

If I asked people what they had in common with Jesus, I would likely get some strange looks.  Depending on their personal opinion of who Jesus is and what Jesus is like, not many people would readily identify with him.  If you’ve been to church or read the Bible, you’re aware that there has never been anyone like him.  He routinely did things and said things that none of the rest of us are capable of: healing people, turning water into wine, and consistently outwitting the smartest minds of his time- not to mention the small detail of coming back to life after being dead.  As good as we might perceive ourselves to be, none of us can compete with that kind of resume.

But you might have more in common with Jesus than you realize.  Or maybe my thoughts are better expressed this way: Jesus has a lot in common with you.  In fact, Jesus knows exactly what it’s like to be you.

There’s a chapter in the Old Testament book of Isaiah that backs up my thoughts.  In this chapter, Isaiah looks forward hundreds of years in time and predicts the type of life Jesus would live, and when you read what Isaiah wrote, I think you’ll see some similarities between Jesus’ life experiences and your own.

In order for the rest of this to make sense, you should read what Isaiah wrote. I’ve inserted a link that will take you to the chapter.  Take a minute to read, then come back.  You can find the chapter here. 

Not exactly the kind of life you’d expect a Messiah to live, is it?  In fact, the things that happened to Jesus are some of the same things that happen to us.  For instance:

Jesus was overlooked.  He lived among the people in plain sight, yet there was nothing about him that caught anyone’s attention.  Do you feel ignored, unimportant, or forgotten?  Do you feel like no matter how hard you try to be noticed, no one really sees you?  Jesus knows exactly how that feels.

Jesus was unappreciated.  He was looked down on and treated like scum.  Jesus’ heart broke for people, and he drove himself to exhaustion helping them.  But no one seemed to notice the time and effort he gave.  Have you ever felt like that?  Have you ever gone the extra mile, given more than your share, or sacrificed your time and money, yet no one noticed, and no one said thank you?  Jesus knows how that feels.

Jesus was misunderstood.  Some thought he was crazy.  Some thought he was dangerous.  They laughed at him and made fun of him and rejected him because they didn’t understand him.  They thought his suffering and death were the consequences of something he did wrong.  No one understood him.  Maybe that describes you, too.  Maybe you feel like no one really understands your heart, and no one is even trying to understand.  Jesus knows what that feels like.

Jesus was rejected.  Some tried to stone him.  The religious leaders constantly hounded him and plotted to kill him.  Others just wanted to benefit from his miracles.  His only friends ran away and denied they even knew him when he was arrested.  He was cut off, turned out, and sent away.  Is this your story too?  Have you been rejected by friends or family because of something that was out of your control?  Jesus can identify.

Jesus was punished for something that someone else did.  Jesus was punished for our wrongdoing.  He did nothing wrong, he said nothing wrong, and yet he was given the blame.  Sound familiar?  Nothing stings quite like being blamed and punished for something that we didn’t do.  Jesus knows all about it.

Jesus knows what it’s like to be you.  He is not a stranger to rejection, pain, unjust punishment, or being misunderstood.  He’s already faced what you’re facing, he has experienced what you are experiencing, and he knows how to help you through the hard places of your life.  You have more in common than you think.



Interpreting Life’s Challenges

The funeral service for my friend had just ended, and I was standing with his family, waiting for the casket to be loaded in the hearse.  I noticed my friend’s daughter seemed to be struggling emotionally.  Funerals are difficult enough, but funerals for a father can be especially hard.  I eased over beside her, leaned in, and whispered, “Are you OK?”  Her response hit me like a baseball bat.

She raised her eyes to me- eyes filled with anger and hurt.  Then she said, with raised voice, “No, preacher, I’m not OK.  I’m angry.  How could God let this happen?  I thought you said God was good.  Is this what God calls good?”

If you’ve walked in this woman’s shoes, you can understand her pain and anger.  But as I’ve had time to process her response, I’ve realized that although losing someone is never easy, not everyone reacts to loss in such strong terms.  Life has a never ending variety of challenges that we face, and the way we react to them is a function of how we interpret them.

How do you interpret the challenges that life throws at you?  Asked another way: how do you explain why you face challenges, and what is the purpose (if there really is one) of the challenges you face?

Assuming that you are a person of faith, how you answer these questions will depend on who you perceive God to be and what His motives are.  Take my friend’s daughter for example.  She interpreted her father’s death as evidence that God is not good, and that God probably doesn’t care.  God’s reputation as being good depended on whether or not her life flowed smoothly.

The time to evaluate our perspective of life’s challenges is not in the midst of a crisis, but in the lulls in between.  Let me offer you a couple of suggestions that can help provide a balanced interpretation of the difficult circumstances in life.

First, it is a mistake to come to a conclusion about God’s character by judging it against your life’s circumstances.  God is good,  and His goodness is independent of what goes on our lives or in the world.  He’s good all the time, and He’s good because His character is good.  He wants nothing but the best for us, and if you have a relationship with Him, then you can be assured that He intervenes frequently in your life as an agent of good.  Unfortunately, we live in a corrupted world and among people with corrupted natures, which explains why a lot of bad things happen.  When you suffer loss, or when life throws you a curve, don’t interpret this as evidence of God’s disinterest or an indication that He doesn’t care.

Second, this insight comes from my wife.  We were discussing this topic at the breakfast table last week, and she made a very astute observation.  She said that when we experience challenges in life, we are being given the opportunity to learn two valuable pieces of information. Challenges teach us something about God, and they teach us something about ourselves.

As usual, I think she’s right.  If we allow them, difficult circumstance can end up as valuable learning experiences.  Through trials, we learn that God is more than competent to lead us when we don’t know what to do.  We learn that God’s promises can be trusted.  Trials can also reveal important weaknesses in ourselves- lack of patience, lack of faith, and lack of submission.

I lost touch with my friend’s daughter after his death, and I have no idea whether or not she worked through her anger and disappointment with God.  But I have never forgotten the lessons that her reaction taught me.  Don’t judge God’s character by whether or not my life is peaceful or chaotic.  And don’t miss the lessons that can be learned through a crisis.

The Long and Winding Road

The big steel prison door closed with a loud and echoing slam behind me.  I sat down in a small visitation room, bare except for three metal chairs.  I had come to visit my incarcerated friend.

As I sat there and waited for him to be brought in, I was still baffled by what had happened.  My friend was convicted of embezzling money from his employer.  A lot of money.  Like everyone else, I was shocked to hear the news of his arrest.  He was the last person I would ever suspect of being arrested, much less arrested for embezzling money.

My friend had money of his own.  He was educated, married, lived in a nice house, drove a nice car, and came from a nice family.  He attended church regularly and was involved in what was going on.  He was outgoing, well-spoken, and health conscious.  The last person you’d ever dream of this kind of behavior.

As his pastor, it was my responsibility to stay in contact with him and provide as much soul care as circumstances allowed.  But it was also my responsibility to provide support to those who were affected by his choices- his spouse, his family, and his friends in our church.

Those were difficult and gut wrenching conversations.  Because he didn’t offer much in the way of explanation of his actions, we were left to try to make sense of it all.  And as we worked through what happened, I remember the most frequently asked questions.   “What could have motivated him to do such a thing?  Why would he jeopardize his marriage, his family, and his reputation?”

His spouse came to the conclusion that his behavior revealed him for the kind of man he really was- someone she never really knew.  She couldn’t understand how he could do something like this with such disregard for others. Surely he had a deep, fundamental character flaw that was bound to surface at some point.  Other family and friends believed he developed a secret addiction or compulsion that required money he didn’t have.  And some quietly wondered if he fell in with the wrong people and found himself in a situation he couldn’t get out of.

During his time in prison, my friend and I had a chance to talk frankly about what happened.  He had never done anything like this before, and until now he had always had the highest regard for his family.  He assured me in the strongest possible terms that he wasn’t driven by addiction, and he wasn’t in secret trouble.  I believed him.

So what happened?  I have a theory.

I believe my friend fell victim to a condition that every human being is susceptible to- he underestimated the destructive power of his uncontrolled human nature.  Let me explain.

Through the years, I’ve had a chance to sit down with a number of people who have made similar life choices- maybe not embezzlement, but equally damaging such as having an affair or getting caught in a prostitution sting.  All these people had something important in common: none of them woke up one day and decided to ruin their lives.  Instead, they described a slow, step wise journey toward ruin.  And it all began with a small, seemingly insignificant compromise of either integrity or purity.  They were bored, they were stressed, they were pressured, or whatever, and they satisfied their desire.

Once this happens, the next time is easier.  Do it again, and it seems more fun.  Before we know it, the voice of our conscience is drowned out by the cries for more.  We become braver.  We take more chances.  We tell ourselves that no one knows, so we’re not hurting anyone.  Then we tell ourselves that we’re too smart to get caught.  Finally, we become so brazen that we almost don’t care if we’re caught.

In my friend’s case, it probably started small- a few dollars here and a few dollars there.  But once the process began, it was impossible to stop.  It became bigger than what he could handle, and he got caught.

What’s at the root of this behavior?  The bent toward evil of our human nature.  Our natural instincts are to rebel, to be autonomous, and to reject authority and direction, and those who grow up to live successful, meaningful lives are those who learn how to control the demands of these desires.

So here’s my point.  You and I are no different than my incarcerated friend.  We all share that same poisoned nature, and we are all one compromise away from stepping onto that long, winding road that leads to disaster.

We said our goodbyes, and as I walked down the hall toward the exit of the prison, I remember muttering the prayer, “God, but for your grace, that man would be me.”

Lies I’m Tempted To Believe

There’s nothing worse than being lied to.  Lying to someone is an act of disrespect, and I’ve never met a person who isn’t angered when lied to.

But what if the person lying to you is yourself?  That might sound impossible, but it happens all the time.  Our own minds are masters at getting us to believe things that aren’t true.

The reasons we deceive ourselves are varied.  Some people believe lies because earlier in life they were told that same lie, they believed it, and their minds continued to reinforce it.  For others, a difficult or traumatic event takes place, and they are emotionally or psychologically ill-equipped to correctly interpret what happened.  In an effort to make sense of their hurt, they arrive at a false conclusion, which from that point onward is believed as truth.

I must honestly tell you that my mind tries to lie to me, and sometimes I struggle to reject those lies.  I’m going to share with you a few of those lies in hopes that they will encourage you to take the time to review what your mind is trying to get you to believe.

Here’s a lie my mind tells me: There’s no time to rest.  There are a lot of moving parts to the church I pastor, and there’s always something to do.  I assure you that I stay busy, but when I read about churches that have thousands of people in attendance (which we don’t), my mind tells me that if I just worked harder and rested less, more people would come to our church, too.  When families decide to leave us to attend somewhere else, my mind suggests that if I had only done more, they might have stayed.  When I try to rest, I hear that voice in my head saying, “There’s so much to do.  You should get up and get to work.”  I recognize these suggestions as lies, but man, they sure sound like the truth sometimes.

Here’s a second lie: Everything depends on me.  I’ve done enough self-care to recognize the source of this lie.  I lost my father early in life, and some of the responsibilities of life became mine before I was old enough or ready to handle them.  I had no one to help me work through this, so from an early age, I came to the conclusion that since there was no one else to help me, I was on my own, and whatever got done would have to be done by me.  I hate this lie, because when I revert back and act as though it’s the truth, other people- people I love and people I work with- are impacted.  I become bossy.  I micromanage.  I wrongly act as if I’m the only one with the answers.

I’ll mention one more: Needing help is a sign of weakness.  At this point, I’m certain that all female readers would chalk this up the fact that I’m a man.  But for me, this goes deeper than failing to ask for directions when I get lost.  My mind tells me that no matter how bad things get, I need to suck it up and keep digging.  In some circumstances, this is true.  But sometimes I really do need help.  I need advice.  I need someone else’s perspective.  It’s not a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of being human.  Yet my mind has twisted that need into a lie that makes me feel ashamed to ask.

I’m glad to say that I’m not without resources to fight this battle.  My wife understands me like no one else, and she is an expert at helping me sort out the truth from the lies.  I have friends that provide perspective and insight that keeps my thinking clear.  But the most potent weapon against the lies from my mind is my faith.  This might sound counter-intuitive, but because I have abandoned control of my life the leadership of Jesus Christ, everything doesn’t depend on me anymore.  In Him, I have all the help I need.  I can work hard, then rest at the end of the day confident that Jesus will more than make up for my deficits.

I wonder if there are some lies your mind tells you.  If you are inclined to comment on them, I promise to read them and offer encouragement back to you.


A Son’s Memorial Day Tribute

It  has almost been 50 years since I’ve seen my father.  That morning he was there, eating breakfast with us.  He kissed my mom, walked out the door to go to work, and that’s the last time we saw him alive.  He was a sailor in the Navy, and that morning he underwent an elective minor outpatient surgical procedure on his ship, suffered cardiac arrest, and died.  He was 32.

I was only 12 years old, and my memory of him is fading.  I remember a few details, but as time goes on, they are getting fuzzier.  The problem with the passing of time is that the people who can help me remember details about him are gone too.  So I’m left with what I can remember.  Because I was so young, I didn’t have the capacity to know him from the perspective of an adult.  All my memories of him are remembered through the eyes of a kid.

I remember him as being quiet and very disciplined.  The Navy was all he knew, and he had given over 20 years of active service when he died.  Sometimes I felt like I was in the Navy, too, especially when I misbehaved.  My dad ran a tight ship.

Many of my childhood memories didn’t include him, because he was gone.  A lot.  He served on several ships, and at least once a year his ship went to sea, which meant he was gone for a few months at a time.  Then he served a tour in Vietnam that lasted an entire year.  He was an electrician, and in Vietnam his job was to repair damaged PT boats on the Mekong River.

My father was tall and thin.  Although I’m sure I’ve become a taller and larger man than he was, it’s hard imagining him to be smaller than me.  I remember the first time I heard him swear, or saw him drink a beer.  I was a surprised.  But I also remember smiling.

I don’t remember my dad being affectionate or telling me that he loved me.  My mom spent her lifetime reinforcing the fact that he loved all of us dearly, but what I wouldn’t give to remember him telling me himself.  Those missing words have had a direct impact on my own parenting and grand-parenting methodology.

Although I don’t remember many details about my father, I remember admiring him, and I wanted to be like him.  And I still do.  I can still see him in his dressed uniform.  I remember his steel jaw and his blazing eyes.  I was proud of him then, and I’m proud of him now.

I would love to introduce him to my sons- his grandsons- and to my own grandchildren.  I wish he could have seen them and known them.  I think he would have been proud of how his family turned out.

As time marches on, I fear that my father’s life will blend into history, and one day his life will be forgotten.  I want a record of his life to exist- a marker that will testify that my father lived and died and served his country with distinction.  That’s what Memorial Day is all about.  And that’s what this blog post is about.

In the mountains of Western North Carolina, there is a small Methodist Church with a cemetery  in the back.  Among the rows of grave stones, there is a flat bronze marker with these words:

                                                              GEORGE B GASPERSON

                                                     CWO                    UNITED STATES NAVY

                                            OCTOBER 5, 1938            JANUARY 7, 1971

Love you, dad, and thank you for serving our country.  I haven’t forgotten you.

There might be someone in your life- your parent, sibling, cousin, friend- who you would like to memorialize this Memorial Day by mentioning their name.  I invite you to use the comment section to record their name and any background info you choose.

Why God says “Don’t Be Afraid”

Chance are you’ve never heard the name Alex Honnold.  This young man accomplished one of the most amazing feats in history- in 2017 Alex free-climbed the face of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park.  He climbed 3200 feet of sheer rock face WITHOUT A ROPE.  If you’re interested, his climb is featured in the movie “Free Solo.”

Even if I had Honnold’s technical climbing skills, there’s no way I would ever attempt a climb like that.  There’s a one-word reason: fear.  Get me anywhere near the edge of a cliff, and I become paralyzed.

Fear isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  It’s a useful emotion to protect us from harm.  But too often, fear becomes the motivation for living instead of the behind the scenes protector.  Have you seen people who allow fear to rule their lives?  Theirs is a life of defeat.

The Bible talks  quite a lot about fear.  In fact, a repeated theme emerges that encourages people not to be afraid.  When Joshua was chosen to be the leader of the Israelites, God encouraged him to be strong and courageous.  When angels appear to humans, their first words are “Fear not.”

When God tells us not to be afraid, I believe He’s doing more than encouraging us not to worry.  I believe it’s a gentle warning, because being controlled by fear causes undesired dynamics in our lives.  For instance:

Fear breeds doubt, which in turn negates faith.  Fear is actually the opposite of faith.  When we’re motivated by fear, nothing is certain.  Doubt creeps in. In our minds, the worst case scenario becomes the most likely event.  And before we know it, our faith shrinks.

Fear keeps us from taking the next step in life.  If you want a different life, then you have to do things differently, which involves taking a step in a new direction.  Fear makes it impossible to take a new step.  Fear paralyzes us.  It takes away our willingness to change.

Fear prevents us from praying specific prayers.  Fear produces general, non-specific prayers.  Why?  Because fear rejects risk, and praying specifically is risky business.  Specific prayers lay it out there in stark reality, and God will either say yes or no.  Fear dreads failure, so it discourages us from any activity or situation where failure is an option.

Fear stunts our spiritual growth.  Spiritual growth is all about moving forward into new places and giving God control of new parts of our lives.  That’s one of the foundational principles of relating to God: He takes you right where you are, but He never allows you to stay there.  He’s always moving you forward, asking for trust and for gestures of faith.  Unfortunately, fear and faith are antagonists.  People who walk by faith have learned to let go of fear.  It’s not that they are never afraid.  It’s just that fear does not rule.  Faith does.

You don’t have to free solo El Capitan to reject fear and live by faith.  You just have to decide that God is God, that He knows what He’s doing, and the best things in life happen when His way wins out.  There are times when you will be very afraid, and you won’t understand all the whys and whens and wherefores.  The people who reach the top of the mountain are the people who climb through their fear and are motivated by faith.